Spaceflight Insider

NASA awards four more Commercial Crew missions

NASA hopes that its Commercial Crew Program will allow the agency to send astronauts to the International Space Station and free the agency from its dependence on Russia. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA hopes that its Commercial Crew Program will allow the agency to send astronauts to the International Space Station and free the agency from its dependence on Russia. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA has awarded four rotation missions to Boeing and SpaceX, allowing the partners to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The contracts are currently under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts which bring the number of missions awarded to each provider to six. 

Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon docked to International Space Station in this image produced by Nathan Koga for SpaceFlight Insider

NASA hopes that its Commercial Crew Program will allow the agency to send astronauts to the International Space Station and free the agency from its dependence on Russia. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

“Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers,” said Phil McAlister, director, NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division. “The ability to turn on missions as needed to meet the needs of the space station program is an important aspect of the Commercial Crew Program.”

If everything goes as it is currently planned, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will transport up to four astronauts for NASA. This will include up to 220 lbs (100 kg) of cargo to the space station.

Roscosmos announced last year that it has no plans to launch U.S. astronauts to the space station after 2018. NASA currently pays the Russian agency $80 million for every seat on the Soyuz spacecraft.

Meanwhile, the U.S. space agency has made it clear that it plans to use the space station to expand the “advancement of scientific knowledge off the Earth, for the benefit of those on the Earth and to prepare for future deep space exploration.”

Research on the orbiting laboratory provides NASA with a facility to gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges of long-duration human spaceflight without having to leave low-Earth orbit.

NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System super heavy-lift rocket for missions into deep space. However, the agency still has obligations in low-Earth orbit and there is a wealth of scientific study that still needs to be done in LEO. To accomplish this and to ensure that the maximum return on the $100 billion that has been invested on the ISS is achieved, NASA has opted to cede control of delivery crew and cargo to the orbiting lab to private companies.

Boeing is developing its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to send crews to the ISS. To launch Starliner to orbit, Boeing plans to use United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rockets. Crews would launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Boeing’s uncrewed flight test known as Orbital Flight Test is currently scheduled for June 2018 with a crewed flight test planned for August 2018.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is developing its Crew Dragon to launch on the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX signed a 20-year lease in 2014 with NASA to use the launch site. SpaceX’s uncrewed flight test is called Demonstration Mission 1 and is currently scheduled for November 2017. A follow-up crew flight test is currently planned to take place in May 2018.

SpaceX has been working to return its Falcon 9 rocket to service ever since one of the launch vehicles exploded at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida in September of last year. The Hawthorne, California-based company has made progress in this regard.

On Monday, Jan. 2, the company announced that it had discovered the root cause of the accident, determining that one of the composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store cold helium inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage failed after super-cooled liquid oxygen (LOX) became trapped in the carbon composite overwrap.

Then, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, SpaceX conducted its first static test fire since the accident. SpaceX is hoping the Federal Aviation Administration will issue a license permitting the NewSpace firm to launch.

 

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Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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